ANI report card: Fail

There is — there has been since the first visuals hit social media — a stench of something rotten about the gunman who, on December 30 January 30, fired on a group of students marking the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination, injuring one. (Sorry about the error, thanks all who pointed it out).

Courtesy Reuters

This image, and the video of the incident, is merely the beginning. No matter how many times you watch, it is difficult to understand how police, in a hyper-vigilant state at a protest site, stood passively, some with folded arms, while a man with a pointed gun stalked barely ten meters in front of them and assembled reporters and others repeatedly yelled to warn the cops the man was armed.

As media personnel, particularly cameramen, advanced towards him and as one student walked up to confront him, he retreats towards the police — which is bizarre considering that even if your knowledge of how the police operate is gleaned from masala movies, you would know the police react immediately and aggressively at the sight of a deadly weapon.

“It happened in micro-seconds,” explained the Special Commissioner of Police (Intelligence), in the process insulting the intelligence of every single person who saw the video and knows it took considerably longer than micro-seconds; who saw, also, that even after the threat was blindingly apparent there was no signs of overt activity among the cops, with just one — unarmed — policeman walking almost casually towards him while others, some wearing riot gear, stand by and watch.

But the real what-the-fuck moment came in the aftermath. The shooter is from UP, he was not living in Delhi at the time, even if he were it is hardly unlikely that he was carrying various relevant documentation in his pocket. And yet the news agency ANI, within an hour and a half, was able to produce this:

Assume for the sake of argument that ANI, with its wide network, was able to get in touch with one of its reporters/stringers in the gunman’s home town and access this document. There are far more, and more fundamental, problems with it. On Twitter, Aparna pointed at some of them:

Link to the CBSE site giving the details

At this point, the smell of rotting fish is overpowering. And that, plus ANI’s surprising haste to put out a document claiming minor status for the gunman, prompted the tech-savvy Krish Ashok (Are you following him yet? You should — he is an all-round genius) to test the document. Here is what he found:

The Error Level Analysis tool (from Foto Forensics) shows an amplified view of contrast differences, which makes it easy to spot digital edits/additions to an image.

For instance, from the analysis above, it’s easy to see that the ANI watermark was added after the fact. Now take a look at the marks and the school details. They have the same telltale sign of having been “added in” later.

Key things to note: The black text is all perfectly rectangular, as you can see if you zoom into the ELA analysis here. This generally suggests that the text was copy-pasted/added in Photoshop using a rectangular textbox tool. If it was part of the original image, the sharp rectangular edges would not be visible – take a look at all the pink text, which is a part of the original marksheet, and you will see the difference.

Another point: In the original image, there are some folds in the paper, since the person is holding it up to take a photo. The black text, if you look carefully, does not follow these folds — another telltale sign that the image was taken, and then altered later.

ANI image run through Forensically

To make doubly sure, Krish Ashok then ran the image through Forensically, a tool that helps you do noise-level analysis, another method of determining whether parts of an image show different noise levels from other parts, thus indicating whether some parts have been added later.

The perfect rectangular images where the black text is gives it away. If that text was part of the original image, you wouldn’t see such differentiation. The full analysis is here.

One other indicator that all is not kosher: The marksheet is laminated and, typically, colours get muted when photographed through the laminating sheet. But the crucial text is perfectly dark black, not slightly greyed out as it should be if it was actually on the marksheet and not digitally added afterwards. 

Krish sent me this concluding note: I believe strongly that this image has been digitally manipulated, and all the black text has been digitally added in. However, it must be said that detecting fakes can throw up false positives, so I’d make the case that there is more than sufficient doubt about the validity of this document to merit more rigorous testing under lab conditions.

Why make such a big fuss? Because the incident with the gunman is serious, particularly coming as it did on the back of open calls to violence by politicians including a key member of the Union Cabinet.

And because a news agency with unparalleled access to the government coupled with an unsavoury record of veracity put out a relevant document intended to make the case that the gunman is a minor and therefore should not feel the full force of the law (In this connection, read this excellent deep dive into the workings of ANI by Praveen Donthi for Caravan magazine).

PS: It is Budget day. I have no pretensions to understanding macro-economics, so I’m going to move away from the blog and settle down to following the presentation, and surround-sound, through sources I trust to give me the facts and analysis without noise and spin. See you back here tomorrow.